Sunday, 10 October 2010

Tristram Hunt on the Coalition's Prospects

At Friday evening's branch meeting of North Staffs and East Cheshire's Cooperative Party, new MP for Stoke Central Tristram Hunt gave a brief talk on what the prospects of the Coalition government. Will they disassemble at the first hurdle or are they likely to go the distance?

He began with a potted history of previous coalition governments. The first coalition in modern times was the six month-long Fox-North coalition of 1783, a Tory-Whig lash up George III dismissed after nine months. The one 19th century experience of a coalition (during the Crimean war) was also an inglorious episode. Small wonder Benjamin Disraeli famously declared "England does not love coalitions". But given the two parties' duopoly in an adversarial system, any alliance between the two made little sense. Because this party system has survived in various permutations down to the present day, Britain stands out among West European nations in not having much experience of coalition government outside of war (Crimea, 1st and 2nd World Wars) and economic crisis (the 1931-35 national government notoriously presided over by Ramsay MacDonald, and the Tory/National Liberal "coalitions" prior to the war).

This is something not lost on the Tories and LibDems. Despite not being historically enormous, the deficit is dressed up as a mortal economic menace demanding extreme measures - such as a coalition - to get rid of it. They pretend it is an instrument designed to work in the national interest, but the colouration of cabinet and junior minister appointments owes more to political expediency than anything meritorious. This is even clearer when it comes to the coalition's constitutional plans. The Alternative Vote referendum is a Tory sop to those LibDems who are at best lukewarm over the cuts - even though the measure is unlikely to win, it might buy off a LibDem revolt while the first cuts package is going through parliament. Then there is the fixed parliament with its two thirds majority threshold for dissolution. And not forgetting the major boundary exercise which will, at a stroke, snuff out 50 constituencies. By pure coincidence the majority of whom are Labour-held seats.

That said, Tristram thought the coalition, as a piece of political machinery, is working well. Because this is an alliance of
Orange Book LibDems (i.e. the party's dogmatically neoliberal wing) and the Tories, they already share a very similar outlook. It is this ability for the two to rub along nicely. If the coalition lasts the five year distance the personal and political friendships will help see them through, as well as their mutual culpability for the dark deeds they are committing. This is what his head thought, but his gut was telling him something else: it gave the coalition three years tops. Again, it comes back to the AV referendum. After it has failed many LibDem members will be wondering what they have got out of the coalition (apart from undying enmity and a deserved reputation for opportunism). Therefore it's likely the centre and centre leftish LibDems are the ones to give the coalition a headache. Meanwhile backbench Tories might moan and make themselves difficult, but not to the point of bringing the government down. Good Tories never put principles before power.

Moving on to questions, Tristram added that the Tories and LibDems entered the relationship without an exit strategy. While there has been some speculation about joint election campaigns (something that would screw Labour for the forseeable future), neither body of activists would stand for it - unless faced with the prospect of total wipeout.

Asked about the boundary review, Tristram thought this would cause the coalition innumerable problems within its own ranks. Many LibDems sit in marginal constituencies - a movement of a boundary here or there could tip them into the hands of the other parties. In addition, the loss of 50 seats will see many MPs from all sides of the Commons absorbed in internal selection battles from the middle of the parliamentary term on. Hardly a recipe for rebuilding public trust in politicians.

Another point Tristram made, which seems to be what many Labour MPs are thinking but I'm not entirely sure about, is that people
like the coalition. It's becoming received wisdom that the public prefer to see parties working together rather than knocking lumps out of each other. I certainly haven't encountered this sentiment outside medialand, nor have I spoken to anyone chillaxed about losing their job or pension rights because it's a coalition wielding the axe. But if you believe there is a mood favouring consensus, Ed Miliband's decision to appoint Alan Johnson over the consensus-challenging economic policies favoured by Ed Balls makes sense. But it doesn't make it any more right.

In all a worthwhile look at the problems the coalition face. Unfortunately, in my opinion Labour lacks the leadership to make the most of them. Just as it was under Thatcher the strongest opposition will come from *outside* parliament.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Will come from outside Parliament", if you mean the Unions and the workers then frankly I think your wrong, as in Thatchers period once the miners strike was over it was silence from the Unions, and when they did bark Thatcher normally gave way, I had the biggest wages rise under Thatcher then ever before.

It does not matter if David Miliband had won, people had decided to make a change and nothing yet has changed my mind.

Anonymous said...

Labour failed to be a coalition of its own members (attack dogs let lose on fellow party members. Not good) so really has nothing to offer anyone. Well, except maybe for false hope.

james said...

If the "new generation" is to be anything other than a marketing slogan, it could be the "new generation" of policy and strategy in a more open and cooperative way. The shadow cabinet has already been described as a coalition...

What might appear to be a weakness on the part of Labour's new leader might actually be a strength. Recall Ed's Labourspace site, which allowed users to promote and vote on different policies. I suspect he'll have a similar approach when leading the cabinet - if only because it is a more efficient way of leading.

In opposition, the Tories had some damaging in-fights as a result of Cameron's leadership style - in government it's expressing itself with the disasterous presentation of the child benefit cut for high earners.

WHS said...

An utterly childish analysis.

"the deficit is dressed up as a mortal economic menace demanding extreme measures - such as a coalition - to get rid of it."

Rubbish. It's the hung Parliament that demands the coalition. I can imagine a Conservative minority government where the Lib Dems joined Labour in pseudo-lefty opposition, probably leading to the fall of that Government quite soon. Meanwhile while the politicians were playing silly beggars, the markets would have panicked and the economy tanked more.

"And not forgetting the major boundary exercise which will, at a stroke, snuff out 50 constituencies. By pure coincidence the majority of whom are Labour-held seats."

Not coincidence. Inner city seats are where the populations are declining. Equalising seats at boundary reviews always does this, reduction in seats or no.

You carry on in your drivel that everyone hates the nasty Tories and the rest of us will get on with our lives.

Phil said...

The only twaddle being talked here is yours my friend. If you take the trouble to read what was written rather than satisfy yourself with a cursory glance, you might notice the comment about the 'emergency' nature of the coalition was contexualised by the crises previous coalitions had been formed under. Yes, there is a hung parliament, but are you denying the Tories and LibDems are hyping up the deficit to justify their political love-in?

And as for your comments on the boundary review. Well ... seldom is such naivete in these comment boxes seen.

Phil said...

Anon, there is certainly fear and anger circulating around the labour movement at the moment re: the cuts to come. It is inevitable they will spark resistance in the form of strikes and protests. But they will only win if the trade unions are able to win over the bulk of public opinion, which is no easy task.

J said...

"the major boundary exercise which will, at a stroke, snuff out 50 constituencies. By pure coincidence the majority of whom are Labour-held seats."

Just goes to show how unfair the boundaries have become - were they fair, reduction in seat numbers would affect parties proportionally.

Phil said...

Indeed.

Gary Elsby said...

This 'love in' of political parties to remove this debt of menace.
Are we talking of the Tory/Liberal UK coalition or the Labour/Tory coalition of Stoke?

Evidence is required where a Labour voter will vote Labour/Tory to ease this menace.

It has never happened in Stoke and loss of power proves this. Campaigning for years, and during the last Labour/Tory coalition around here (Meredith against the Party) was a hapless enterprise that removed all key players and removed an Elected Mayor.

This current coalition within Stoke has no public mandate and will be crucified in May 2011.

The National coalition is slightly different. It has seen off a Labour party that chose to distance itself from taking power and absolve itself from protecting Union jobs and their threats of redundancy prior to the Election.

Ed Miliband accepts cuts on behalf of Labour, of which Brown and co did not.

Phil said...

You may recall Alistair Darling talking about cuts "worse than Thatcher" under Labour if the party won the election. This was Alistair Darling, the chancellor: the man directing economic policy under Brown. So yes, Brown was committed to cuts as much as Ed Miliband is. It doesn't make either of them correct.

Gary Elsby said...

Brown and Darling did not support the cuts that Ed Miliband now supports and they did not support the cuts being paraded during the last General Election by Cameron.
There is a difference between new spend, old spend and wasteful spending, of which the latter requires no redundancy.
Ed Miliband is supporting certain cuts by Cameron and I await the verdict of Brown and Darling.
Build on growth and reduce the defecit when appropriate was the Labour message and not that cameron was right all along.

Phil said...

Of course Brown and Darling weren't going to say they would support Cameron's cuts because they were *the government* and Ed Miliband is heading *the opposition*. Ed Miliband has repeated the same criticisms Brown and Darling made of the Tories' proposals, but in the name of cuddly compromise he has blown the chance of backing an alternative economic policy to the cuts. It will be a decision that costs him and Labour dearly.

Gary Elsby said...

Let's rewind the video here.

The Tories had more candidates elected on a 'cuts' manifesto than Labour did on a 'no cuts' manifesto.

Labour (after refusing Government) then elected a new 'cuts' Leader.

Ed Miliband: " I will agree to Government cuts, but not all cuts".
(Leader's speech Conference 2010).

Am I now to believe that the only people telling the truth in May 2010 were Cameron and Osborne?

This takes my breath away.

Phil said...

You're confusing yourself Gary. Brown and Darling said there would be cuts. It's just that theirs wouldn't be as bad as the Tories.

Throughout the campaign Ed Miliband was a bit shady on the cuts - the most he would say about them was Darling's plan to cut the deficit in half by the end of the parliament would be something to start from. Small wonder as the only credible deficit reduction plan from all the candidates was that pushed by Ed Balls - even now there has been no coherent critique of it from within mainstream politics.

Unfortunately Ed Miliband has capitulated to the Westminster and medialand consensus on the needs for cuts by confirming the Darling plan, albeit with a little more wiggle room.

It is my belief that making working class people pay for the crisis is unnecessary, ideological, and is overtly a class war move.

Boffy said...

The thing is at the end of the day the Cuts are not necessary. There is nothing exceptional about the current deficit as I have shown in my blog UK Debt Facts.

Gary Elsby said...

Hang on a minute here.
There is a difference between cut's to future funding and to cuts to current funding.

Cameron is cutting front line services and cutting current funding.

No what is Ed Miliband agreeing to?

How about our Labour/Conservative Council. What is being mooted for cuts here? Can we guess?
1. Cuts to future funding?
2. Cuts to front line services and current funding?
Which will Pervez go for, Cameron or Ed?
I can't wait for this lot to knock on my door.Vote Labour, get Conservative.

Phil said...

Ed Miliband says he will oppose cuts he thinks are too deep and too dangerous. He would like to see more deficit reduction come from taxes on the banks and the wealthy (those what these are, beyond an increased bank levy, he hasn't spelt out). There will be some cuts the coalition makes that he thinks are supportable.

I don't agree with that position. But there's nothing confusing about it.

Gary Elsby said...

Too simplistic Phil.
What will happen is that Tory led Councills will do Cameron's bidding and cut front line services.
Labour led Councils will follow suit and cut front line services.
Labour/Conservative coalition Councils will blame each other(at election time) but cut services with nothing more than a wimper.

Leaving Ed Miliband looking stupid and the only opposition to it all will come from local born and bred candidates and Councillors.

In Stoke we have about five local people within Labour, running Labour. The rest will do what is expected of them and do nothing.
Apart from Cut our front line services, that is.
Now what do you think my crew would have done, if we hadn't run off?

Andrea Tinsley said...

One moment, the criteria for being a Labour Councillor in Stoke-on-Trent is that you live in the City. Therefore all the Labour Councillors bar one who moved out of the City but grew up in the CIty and works in the City are local Labour Councillors.